On the Race for Thurston County Prosecutor

[Full disclosure: I have endorsed and donated to Victor’s campaign, and I hope you do too.]

One race locally that promises to be interesting is the race for Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney. So I thought I’d take you on a deep dive into the candidates to see how they stack up.

Who’s running?

On one side is the incumbent Jon Tunheim. He got his law degree at the University of Puget Sound. He started working for the Prosecutor’s office in 1988 as an intern, became a Deputy Prosecutor in 1990, and was elected Prosecutor in 2010. This was made easy by the fact that no one ran against him. He ran unopposed again in 2014. He’s entrenched and established and considered unbeatable by most local political influencers.

His opponent is local civil attorney Victor Minjares. He got his law degree from Stanford Law followed by 15 years as a prosecutor in Los Angeles. After moving here in 2005, he spent 8 years in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Experience.

If I were hiring for the position and looking at both resumes, I’d have a tough choice. Tunheim has 8 years in the position, and 30 years in the office. Victor has a degree from Stanford Law, and 15 years as a prosecutor in one of the biggest counties in the country. In the end, I think Victor’s education and experience edges out Tunheim in this category.

Name recognition.

I mentioned earlier that Tunheim has never had an opponent before. That means he hasn’t had the benefit that a full-on campaign brings of getting your name out there to the people. If you asked 100 random people on the street who their prosecutor is, I’m guessing 90 of them couldn’t tell you. His name recognition just isn’t strong in the general public. He does have some in the social/racial justice communities, but it’s all negative, due to his decision to prosecute Andre Thompson & Bryson Chaplin and to not prosecute Office Ryan Donald in 2015. Victor has been in the community for a number of years and even ran for a judgeship a few years ago. Name recognition among the general public for these two is pretty close I’d say.

Side note: The high negatives that Tunheim brings with him are in a segment of the population that traditionally doesn’t vote or get all that active, primarily people of color. In other elections around the country recently this voting block has created some surprising results when they get engaged. If I’m Tunheim in this climate of change and the move away from the status quo, I’m very worried about these newly engaged voters. Tunheim isn’t a particularly exciting candidate. I’ve never seen him fire up a crowd the way that Victor held the crowd when he emceed the Families Rally last month.

The money.

If you’ve spent any time with me talking about campaigns you’ve probably heard me mention The Four Resources: time, information, money, and people. If you have a lot of one of them you can get away with having less of another, but you need as much of all of them as you can get. Whoever has the biggest net balance of the four resources on election day wins.

Money is the one we hear about and talk about the most because it’s the most controversial. Money buys you media, the most expensive and hardest to acquire campaign asset. You can mail more, run more TV and radio ads, get more yard signs out, and thereby not have to do the grassroots (time-expensive) work of personally reaching out to people at their doors and at events. Saves you time and effort, and can squash opponents.

If you predicted the winner of every election solely based on fundraising you’d probably be right at least 90% of the time. Here in Washington for instance, we didn’t get marriage equality passed until our side finally raised more money than the other.

Here’s the breakdown as it stands right now according to the Public Disclosure Commission:

  • Starting funds
    • Tunheim $5726.64
    • Victor $0.00
  • Contributions
    • Tunheim $25,185.06
    • Victor $7269.19
  • Loans
    • Tunheim $0.00
    • Victor $5000.00
  • Expenditures
    • Tunheim $15,451.35
    • Victor $4175.50
  • On hand (approx)
    • Tunheim $15,459.71
    • Victor $8093.69

So right now Victor has about half as much money as Tunheim. Victor’s largest contributor is Bruce Mackey, at $1000.00. Tunheim’s largest is himself, at $3896.33 (second place is Lacey City Councilmember Michael Steadman at $1000.00).

Expenses get interesting…

Victor’s largest expense to date, as it should be, is yard signs, at $2489.24. Nothing wrong with that, those things cost about $5 each and he needs his name out there everywhere, so he bought about 500 yard signs. No big deal. Tunheim’s biggest expense, however, is his campaign kickoff (including a private VIP dinner before the main event), which came in at a whopping $8535.29 after all expenses. This is beyond extravagant, it’s perplexing. The event lost money. A C4 filed the next day, which appears to contain all of the contributions from the date of the event, totals $8326. So the event lost the campaign $209.29 in day-of receipts. Kickoffs are intended to be your first big fundraiser where you prime your coffers for the coming year. By comparison, a congressional candidate in the state spent about $5000.00 on their kickoff but made around $50,000.00 from the event. It gives me the feeling that maybe Tunheim just doesn’t think he has a challenging opponent and decided to celebrate his victory early. I don’t know and I won’t speculate his motivations. The fact is: that is way too much to spend on your kickoff and seems irresponsible to me.

At the end of the day I think if Victor can raise a total of $30,000 by the beginning of October, he can run a competitive campaign, and do the basic mailing he needs to do. They’ll have to work really hard and mount a strong grassroots campaign, but it can be done. He’s going to have to summon an army of folks that go hit doors and phones for him. More people can beat more money.

Bottom line

If they run a tight, smart campaign, it’s possible for Victor to beat the incumbent. People seem to think that Tunheim will raise a lot of money on demand and that’s going to sustain him and assure his victory. I’m honestly not sure about that. I think a lot of his likely donors will be focused on the county commission and the very important race between Tye Menser and Bud Blake. He might have trouble at the ATM because of it.

I won’t predict anything in July, because there are still way too many variables and way too much time, but I think it’ll be fun to watch it play out.

Cheers!

How do you feel about that?

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